In March 2021 Aura, a SaaS online safety tool launched its blog. Two years later Aura hit 319,000 monthly visitors. This surge of organic traffic was the result of an effective Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy that combined great keyword research, awesome content, and powerful backlinks.
It’s a growth curve that business owners and investors dream of.
This guide to SaaS keyword research will break down the strategies companies like Aura use to dominate the SERPs. You’ll learn how to create a list of valuable keywords, the type of content you should produce, and the order you should publish everything.
The 4 Principles of Keyword Research
There are four key concepts of keyword research you need to know to execute a successful SaaS SEO strategy. They are:
- Search intent and the sales funnel
- Keyword difficulty and search volume
- Topical authority and search rankings
- Keyword clustering
You need to understand these principles as they are the foundation of an effective content strategy.
1. Search Intent & the Sales Funnel
Search intent is the type of content customers expect when they use particular keywords. Understanding search intent is vital because your web pages will only rank for keywords that match users’ needs.
So, how do you differentiate users’ search queries?
There are four types of keywords associated with search intent. There’s a brief explanation of the terms alongside an example keyword from a hypothetical time-tracking app:
- Informational search terms are associated with the awareness stage of the sales funnel. Users want general information about a topic. The SERPs for informational keywords are filled with blog posts and definition articles. For example, “what is Pomodoro technique?”
- Commercial search terms are associated with commercial intent. Users are comparing products and services. The SERPs for commercial keywords are filled with list posts. Sometimes sales pages will also appear. For example, “best time tracking apps”.
- Transactional search terms are associated with transactional intent. Users are looking to make a purchase. The SERPs for transactional keywords are filled with sales pages. Sometimes list posts will also appear. For example, “time tracking app” or “Clockify discount”.
- Navigational search terms are associated with navigational intent. The user is looking for a specific page on your site. The top listing for navigational keywords should be a resource from your site. For example, “Clockify features”. You can mostly ignore keywords with navigational intent.
To make your content rank you need to understand the intent behind search queries. If you’re unsure about the search intent for any potential keywords, review the search results.
2. Keyword Difficulty & Search Volume
Search volume is the monthly search volume for a given keyword. You can use various SEO tools to check the number of searches per month for a term. By default, most SEO tools will show the global search volume for a term. This is the number of searches per month globally.
It’s good practice to look at national search volumes. This is useful if you’re targeting potential customers in a specific region.
There are various paid and free keyword tools business owners use to find search volume. One of my favorite free tools is the Surfer browser extension. You can use it to research search volume and generate a seed list of keywords.
Keyword difficulty measures how hard it is to rank for a given keyword on a scale of 0 – 100. The higher the number, the harder it will be to rank for those keywords. The two factors that impact keyword difficulty are the Domain Authority of ranking sites and the number of backlinks these articles have.
The more authoritative the sites and the more powerful the backlinks to the content, the harder it is to make your content rank for an actual keyword. Here’s a screenshot from Ahrefs that illustrates this point.
The keyword difficulty for this term in the UK is 95. The search volume in the UK is 3,200, and the global search volume is 54,000.
One final thing to note before kicking off your SEO strategy; there is a correlation for between search intent, keyword difficulty, conversion rates, and search volume. A general thing you’ll find is:
- The lower down the sales funnel, the higher the keyword difficulty and lower the search volume. For example, informational keywords have the highest search volume and lowest keyword difficulty. Transactional keywords that attract potential customers have lower search volumes and higher keyword difficulties.
- Long-tail keywords, for example best time tracking app for small businesses, have lower search volume and keyword difficulty than a head keyword like time tracking app.
- Top of the funnel informational search queries have lower conversion rates than comparison keywords and and transactional keywords.
If this all sounds confusing, check out the chart below with the different types of keywords.
Hopefully this explanation that covers all the different types of keywords and factors like keyword difficulty and search volume makes sense. Now onto the next point.
3. Topical Authority & Search Rankings
Topical authority is the concept of making your site an authority resource in your product category. For example, if you had a time tracking tools, your site would cover an extensive list of topics around time tracking.
To quote directly from a Google release:
The topic authority system looks at a variety of signals to understand the degree of expertise a publication has in particular areas. A few of the most prominent signals are:
- How notable a source is for a topic or location
- Influence and original reporting
- Source reputation
Essentially the idea behind your content strategy should be to create pieces of content of all the relevant keywords for your niche. Google then starts to see you as a topical authority in your niche making it easier for you to rank in the top of the SERPs for funnel keywords so you can engage potential customers.
Let’s turn to Aura to show how establishing topical authority benefits your SaaS SEO strategy.
They have 202 pages of content about different types of scams.
These pieces of content generate 106,000 monthly visitors for all those long-tail keywords.
They have 149 pieces of content about different types of hacks. The content generates 106,000 monthly visitors and rank for thousands of long-tail keywords.
The seed keywords for these campaigns are “hacking” and “scams.”
By establishing topical authority around these terms Aura generated this crazy growth curve.
Let me break down how this happens.
Google tracks important metrics to identify sites sites that provide good user experience. So if your content is ranking and you provide your target customer with good content Google is happy. Google rewards sites that have topical authority with high search results for different types of content.
Topical authority is great for content marketers because the more content you produce on a topic, the more traffic you get. That’s why it’s so important to focus on a few seed keywords.
4. Keyword Clustering
Keyword clustering is the last principle to cover. It’s closely related to topical authority.
The idea behind keyword clustering is that you group seed terms together. For example, this is a guide to keyword research for SaaS companies. Topics that are closely related to this term include SaaS SEO, technical SEO for SaaS, SaaS link building, enterprise SaaS SEO, and so on.
The primary keyword for this group is SaaS SEO. It’s the most difficult term to rank.
The other terms I mentioned are secondary keywords. They’re still valuable keywords that we want to rank alongside the primary keyword.
You should interlink between all the pieces of content within a topic cluster. Grouping keywords together is good for user experience. People can easily click between the various resources. Those internal links spread page authority and traffic within the cluster. Those internal links make it easy for Google to crawl your content too.
Keyword clustering helps you rank for your principle seed keyword, and all the alternative keywords in the group. Like topical authority, this practice makes it easier to rank for competitive keywords.
You can use keyword tools alongside things like Chat GPT to identify and cluster relevant terms.
How to Launch a SaaS Keyword Research Strategy the Right Way
The previous section covered principles like topical authority and discussed the types of content to produce. Now here’s a SaaS SEO framework to use for your campaign. It covers the exact strategies we use for identifying relevant keywords that align with the customer journey.
Here’s a checklist to follow when running your campaign:
- List the ideal keywords to target. These should be funnel keywords.
- Create a list of keywords related to the primary search term. For example, if you’re targeting a term like “phishing”, you’d list all the related long-tail search terms. Use keyword research tools, Google Search Console, and analyze direct competitors for inspiration.
- List the keyword difficulty, and search volumes for each keyword. You should list the type of content to produce for every keyword. For example, if it should be a list post, a blog post, or a sales page.
- Prioritize the content to create. Start by targeting low competition keywords that are easier to rank for. You want to target the high competition keywords last. It’s best to publish this content last once you’ve established topical authority.
- Build authority backlinks to the content as you publish. This will help you rank for these low authority funnel keywords you’re targeting.
That in a nutshell is a SaaS keyword research checklist for your software solution. Focus on a limited seed list of terms and establish topical authority. Get your content ranking, then expand your focus to cover new terms. Do this effectively and you’ll dominate the SERPs.
9 Ways SaaS Companies do Keyword Research
The keyword research process starts with looking at things from your customer’s perspective. What words would your ideal customer use to find your product? Do they mention a pain point?
The nine tips we cover below are going to show you how to uncover great keyword ideas for your SaaS website.
1. Use Google Suggest and People Also Ask
This is one of the most overlooked yet simplest ways to come up with a shitload of keyword ideas. We use the technique all the time for different purposes.
For example, you can use it to find new or complementary keywords and topics to cover. Let’s say we wanted to write an article about SaaS marketing. You simply go on Google and start typing this keyword. The autocomplete feature will show you additional phrases related to your target keyword.
Here’s an example:
There’s more. After completing your search, scroll down to the “People Also Ask” section. There, you will find more topics related to your keyword.
It doesn’t have to stop there, either. You can follow the rabbit hole by expanding on each question from the people also ask section. This will prompt additional questions that you can address in your content.
Additionally, you can scroll all the way to the bottom for more topic ideas.
Here’s another question most SaaS content marketers ask; should I answer those questions or target the keywords within a single article or create a separate article for each?
The answer is so simple it sounds silly. Simply look at what Google wants.
Here’s what I mean.
From the first screenshot above, we searched for “saas marketing strategy,” and one of the suggested keywords was “SaaS content marketing strategy.”
So, to know what Google wants, open another tab and search “saas content marketing strategy.” Now, compare the search results for both searches. Do you see any overlapping content in the results? If the answer is yes, you’ll need to target both keywords with the same content.
But if you notice different articles ranking for each search, you’ll also need to create two separate articles. As I said, it’s so simple it sounds silly. Let’s move on to the next tip.
2. Brainstorm keyword ideas with your team
Brainstorming keyword ideas with your marketing team and customer-facing units (sales and support) is another brilliant way to develop a list of keywords prospects use to Google your product.
The goal is to generate as many key topics and seed keywords as possible, and customer-facing teams have valuable insight into common questions customers ask about your business.
Start the brainstorming process by looking at your products, services, and features. Then ask your customer support team this question – when users reach out with a problem, what phrases or keywords do they use to describe our products?
So, for example, if you are a video streaming SaaS, your team may tell you that users always mention terms like HD video, online streaming, picture-in-picture, screen sharing, etc.
From there, the next natural question is – are these keywords included in our landing pages and blog posts?
We use a similar strategy at our SaaS marketing agency. We have monthly meetings where we get to chat with different departments, including the sales team. This team gives us insights into how our ideal customers describe our services.
From their insights, we know for a fact that our target audience uses terms like “B2B SaaS marketing agency,” “SaaS product marketing agency,” “SaaS content marketing agency,” etc., to describe us. That’s why we target these keywords with appropriate landing pages and topic clusters.
So here’s the deal. Sometimes your content marketing topics for the next quarter are with your customer support team right next door (or in the other Slack channel). So you guys cannot afford to stay siloed.
And do you know what the best part is in all this? These are keyword ideas that you’ll, for a fact, are super relevant to your target audience. I mean, the keywords are coming directly from them, not some random tool.
3. Check customer reviews
Modern software businesses collect user feedback for product development and customer experience. But did you know that direct and indirect reviews contain valuable information you can use to generate relevant keyword ideas?
Reviews show you the words customers use when discussing your brand. Remember, how you speak about your products isn’t necessarily the way your target market does.
Here’s a funny scenario. Let’s say you set out to create a beautiful and super-intuitive project management tool. You made the software and used cold calling to get your initial users. Nice.
However, as more people start using the platform and your G2 reviews stack up, you notice more users calling your platform something else, like “a collaboration platform.”
Here’s the problem with that. If you’re only optimizing your platform for the keyword “project management tool,” you’re probably leaving money on the table. You’ll be losing out on all the qualified traffic from everyone using the other keyword in their searches. You’ve got to fix that.
Now, we understand that gathering and analyzing user reviews is a time-consuming enterprise. So we recommend using text analysis tools to automate the process.
These AI-powered tools offer keyword extraction and classify text by topic, sentiment, and intent.
4. Perform competitor research
Competitor research is another great keyword analysis technique for SaaS brands. Take a step back and ask yourself who your competitors are and what keywords are they targeting.
This is pretty straightforward, actually. Just search for one of your target keywords and look at who else is ranking on the first page.
Let’s use our SaaS video streaming example:
The top three results for the keyword ‘free online streaming’ are Plex TV, Tubi TV, and Just Watch.
With a list of competitors in hand, you will need a competitor analysis or keyword search tool to see the keywords they rank for.
When you enter a rival’s website in a competitor analysis tool like Buzzsumo or Ahrefs, you get a list of their keywords and how much traffic they bring. Repeat the process for the top three or five competitors, and you’ll have a sizeable list of target keywords in no time.
You don’t have to choose the same keywords as rival brands if they don’t work for you. However, you should know the keywords they target. If there is an overlap, these are keywords you should prioritize. Gaps point to keyword opportunities.
5. Use keyword research tools
The keyword research process will become tedious and challenging without the right software. Further still, some of the points covered here, like competitor keyword research, are simplified with these tools.
Whether you choose paid or free keyword research tools, they perform extensive and in-depth analysis, resulting in keyword opportunities you couldn’t think of.
Some of the most well-known keyword analysis tools are:
- Google Keyword planner
- Ahref’s Keyword Explorer
They all work the same; they pull keyword ideas based on your short-tail keyword. These ideas could be matching terms, which contain your seed word, or related terms, which don’t necessarily have the seed phrase.
6. Analyze your Google Search Console data
Google Search Console (GSC) is a free tool SEO specialists use to monitor and optimize their presence on SERPs. It can help you understand your SaaS marketing campaign with metrics such as referring domains, organic search results, and high-traffic queries and pages.
For keyword analysis purposes, the ‘Queries’ tab under Performance is what you want to pay attention to. Go through the queries to see some of the queries you appear in.
This Queries report shows which keyword drove the most traffic in the last three months. From the list, the top keywords include ‘technical SEO checklist,’ ‘google search URL,’ and ‘technical SEO.’
GSC data provides insight into your best-performing keywords and identifies existing opportunities to improve organic traffic in your titles, headings, and content body.
7. Review your competitor’s paid ads
This is a great keyword analysis trick to get lucrative, albeit competitive, keywords. If your competitor is breaking their marketing budget on a particular keyword, you can bet they’re getting a decent return from it.
But, of course, the drawback here is that these keywords are typically super competitive. So unless you’re also planning on bidding for the same keyword, you’ll need to create a decent piece of content and invest in link building to rank for the same keyword.
PPC analysis tools provide valuable insight into your competitors’ keyword selections, position on SERPs, and content topics. You can also scan their ad copies looking out for other keywords used there.
Even if PPC campaigns aren’t part of your marketing strategy, learning which keywords your competitors are willing to pay for is beneficial. These profitable keywords indicate which search terms are valuable.
8. Check jobs-to-be-done
Jobs to be done (JTBD) is a framework that allows marketers to understand why customers buy their products. The theory states that customers don’t buy products for their functions or features. They buy them to get a job done.
Knowing your customers’ JTBD helps generate various but relevant keywords. Chances are customers use your products for many things.
For example, people use online conferencing tools for business meetings, family meetings, video content production, event hosting, education, and more.
Look at the reach you get by focusing on the target market and how they use the product! You can rank for education, entertainment, business, and personal searches.
To learn your platform’s jobs to be done, brainstorm with your marketing and sales team. Customer reviews and queries are also an excellent way to discover how customers use your products. Alternatively, you could run a user survey and ask them directly.
SaaS Keyword Research FAQ
Start by defining the head keyword to target. Next, list all keywords related to this term that are relevant to your business. Prioritize keywords with low difficulty that are easier to rank. Produce content with harder keyword difficulty later. Click through to the post for the complete keyword research checklist.
Keyword research is critical to the success of your SaaS SEO efforts. The keywords you identify and the order in which you publish content is critical to the success of your campaign. Get the order wrong and you’ll struggle to rank content, meaning it takes longer to get results from SEO. This guide covers everything you need to know to get this right.
Believe it or not, but the best keywords are not those that attract the most traffic – it’s the ones your audience uses.
In this article, I shared eight different SaaS keyword analysis techniques that’ll help you identify what terms and phrases your audience uses – from digging through the People Also Ask section and customer reviews to doing competitor research and using keyword research tools.
It’s your play now. Go ahead and follow this guide to generate keyword ideas for your content.
In case you need assistance with your keyword research and content strategy, get in touch with our experts. We’ll do a free SEO audit for you and share some great keyword opportunities and topic clusters to focus on. Book your free consultation with Nico here.
Nico is the founder of Crunch Marketing, a SaaS marketing agency. He works with enterprise SaaS clients like Writer, Right Inbox, and Surfer SEO, helping them scale lead generation globally across EMEA, APAC, and other regions.